BRIAN Irvine may only have worked under Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen for little more than a season, but during that time he still learned lessons which proved invaluable in both his playing and coaching career in the following 30 years.

Could, though, the brief spell which Irvine spent with Ferguson at Pittodrie be helping him all these years later now he has, at the age of 51, joined the police force? It is entirely possible.

“Fergie was like a detective when he was a manager,” he said after finishing a shift at Queen Street station in Aberdeen city centre last week. “He would find out about what all his players were doing and how they were getting on from all of his contacts, from his sources. But I am one of many people with a great deal to thank him for because of that."

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Aberdeen supporters have still, nearly 27 years on, not stopped expressing their gratitude to Irvine for the decisive penalty which he scored in their last Scottish Cup final triumph over Celtic at Hampden in 1990.

A tense encounter between Alex Smith’s side and Billy McNeill’s team finished 0-0 after 120 minutes and proceedings were decided by, for the first time, a shoot-out. No fewer than eight of the first nine spot-kicks were netted by both teams.

When Theo Snelders denied Anton Rogan the chance suddenly fell to Irvine to clinch it. The centre-half wasn’t, he would be the first to admit, the ideal man to be handed such an onerous responsibility. But he coolly stepped up and drilled a low shot past Pat Bonner.

“To do that was kind of unique,” he said. “I was very fortunate to get into the position to take the winning penalty. It was at the Aberdeen end as well. As soon as the ball hit the net 20,000 fans started celebrating. That is a special, special memory. It is what every footballer dreams of.

“I just feel very privileged that I had the opportunity to do that for my boyhood team. It was quite incredible. It was the only penalty I ever took too. My penalty kick-taking record is one out of one.”

It is, however, an achievement that he would never have been realised had his eyesight not been slightly impaired.

“I first tried to join the police when I left school,” he said. “But back then you needed to have perfect vision and I wore contact lenses. I did so throughout my playing days. That isn’t a problem now. It is fine if you have perfect aided vision. But it stopped me getting in when I was 18. It was probably just as well because if it hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have become a footballer.”

Instead of following his father into the force Irvine got a job at a bank and played part time for Falkirk. He was spotted and signed by Ferguson in 1985. The rest is history. He played for Aberdeen with distinction for the next 12 years before moving on to Dundee and then Ross County. He also represented Scotland on nine occasions.

Still, his latest career move is definitely the realisation of a life-long ambition. It came about by a circuitous route.

“When I returned rom South Korea, where I had been coaching at Seoul E-Land under Martin Rennie, last year no opportunities came up,” he said. “I was 51 and I realised that was my involvement with football done. It was hard to take, but I just had to accept it and be positive.

“So I started looking for a job. I was working a zero hours contract with Action for Children, the charity I was working for before I went out to Korea, and applied to join the police. Fortunately, after a lengthy process, I got in.

“I must be one of the oldest recruits. It is more of a young man or young lady’s profession. I am 52 next month. It is unusual for somebody of my age. It is new ground for me and for the police. I am finding it challenging, but I am enjoying it.”

A high level of fitness which has to be exhibited to be accepted into the police and the training must have brought back memories of many a punishing pre-season.

“You have to pass a bleep test,” he said. “I was as nervous doing them as I was when I was a player. It is quite a daunting prospect. I thought I had left all that behind.”

Being a well-known and much-loved former Aberdeen player has its definite advantages. “It can be a positive thing,” he said. “The main problems at the weekend in the city centre are obviously caused by drunkenness. If somebody is a wee bit worse for wear with drink and they recognise me and it defuses the situation then great.”

There will, if Aberdeen defeat holders Hibernian in the semi-finals of the William Hill-sponsored competition at Hampden on Saturday, be great rejoicing and much merriment in the local hostelries. Should they go on and win it for the first time since 1990 their followers could very well drink the city dry.

Irvine has been delighted with the resurgence his former club have enjoyed under Derek McInnes in the past four years and believes they are more than capable of emulating the success which the team that he was a member of enjoyed.

“I was getting along to games quite regularly before I joined the police,” he said. “Aberdeen are back to where they were in the late 1980s, early 1990s when I was there. The way they are going now they are capable of winning any game on their day. I would, even though Hibs are the defending champions, be confident of Aberdeen getting to the final. They have that big game mentality.”

Still, he urged caution. “There is no divine right for Aberdeen or Hibs, for clubs outside the two main Glasgow clubs, to win it. There is no guarantee that after 25 years, or 30 years or 100 years that you are going to win the cup. They have to turn up on the day.”

Should Aberdeen once again come up short Irvine will, despite being as disappointed as any of his fellow fans, appreciate there are far worse fates which can befall you. He has diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995.

But the devout Christian’s many positive experiences as a player, a coach, a manager and now a probationary police officer since discovering that he was suffering from the condition underline that he approaches the difficulties which life can throw up as stoically as the highs which he has enjoyed.

“When I was first found it was in my head 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all the time,” he said. “But these days I don’t think about it. I’m fortunate that I’ve been well. I don’t take my health for granted. I’m thankful for my health. But I just get on with each day as it comes.”